To whom has never heard of the lavender plant? It is a shrub famous for its intense fragrance. Its cultivation in the garden or in pots, thanks to the delicate lilac spikes that characterize it, brings a touch of color to any environment where it is present.
This plant owes its name to the Latin verb lavare, as it was already used in antiquity to perfume the water used for body cleansing.
Lavender is a perennial and evergreen aromatic plant that tends to grow in a bushy and shrubby form. Due to its resilience, it can adapt and thrive in various climatic conditions. However, being a Mediterranean plant, it prefers warm and dry climates. In some areas of Italy, it even grows wild.
In this article, we will explore the different techniques for cultivating lavender in the garden and in pots, the species present in our territory, and its various uses. But before anything else, let’s get to know the origins and botanical characteristics of the plant.
Origin and Spread of the Lavender Plant
The lavender plant, known by its scientific name Lavandula officinalis, belongs to the botanical family Lamiaceae.
Known for its cleansing and aromatic properties, it was already one of the main components in the mummification of bodies in ancient Egypt.
The fortune of this aromatic plant spans through the centuries. In the Middle Ages, sticadore, a medicinal preparation obtained from Lavandula Stoechas, was used for treating gastrointestinal disorders and stomach cramps, nausea, or vomiting.
Finally, in the 16th century, lavender reached its peak popularity in cosmetics and perfumery. In the Elizabethan era, women carried sachets containing dried lavender flowers to perfume themselves and their clothes. Even today, lavender-scented linen sachets are effective allies against moths and bad odors.
As a Mediterranean plant, it thrives in environments characterized by high temperatures and dry climates. For this reason, it spread easily in the Mediterranean basin, from North Africa to Asia, from the Arabian Peninsula to India.
Botanical Characteristics of the Lavender Plant
As already mentioned, lavender is a perennial plant. When mature, it can reach a height of one or two meters, depending on the species. Let’s look at its botanical characteristics.
Roots and Stem
Lavender has woody roots and stems. The stems are erect and branched, but from the second year onwards, the plants tend to twist. Older branches are prone to bark peeling.
Leaves and Flowers
The leaves of lavender are arranged oppositely along the length of the stem and can be linear or lanceolate, entire, toothed, or incised. They have a grayish-green color.
The flowers, blue, violet, or lilac, are gathered in cylindrical pedunculate spikes. They are also grouped in variable numbers (from a minimum of 2 to a maximum of 10) in spirals that elongate vertically. The calyx is tubular and streaked with 5 teeth, and the corolla is bilabiate.
The flowering of the plant is abundant and occurs from June to July.
Lavandula includes a large number of species. Only in the Euro-Mediterranean area, there are about 22 species. In this article, we will focus only on the most common ones in Italy.
Our flora comprises five main species of lavender plants:
Also known as Lavanda spigo, this variety is better known as Lavandula latifolia. Its second name comes from the characteristic of having broad and velvety leaves. The height of the plants varies from 30 to 60 cm, and its life cycle is perennial. In Italy, it is distributed in the northwest up to an altitude of 1000 meters above sea level. Therefore, it is more widespread in hilly areas.
It has a height ranging from 40 to 60 cm, and in exceptional cases, it can exceed one meter. Moreover, it mainly grows on siliceous soils because, unlike other species, it requires more acidic soil. It is distributed throughout the peninsula, from north to south, but it grows spontaneously along the Tyrrhenian coasts, up to an altitude of 600 meters above sea level. Although it prefers coastal areas, with the right care, it can also be cultivated in other regions.
This is the “true” lavender. It can reach a maximum height of one meter. The leaves, compared to those of other species, are of a more intense green color. The flowers can have various colors, ranging from lilac to red, white, and blue. It is suitable for forming hedges. It grows from north to south of the peninsula but, like Lavandula Stoechas, it finds its ideal growth point along the Tyrrhenian coasts.
Also known as spigo. It rarely grows in the wild because it is mainly used in perfumery, in the production of essential oils. It has a bushy and lignified base, and the leaves are green on the upper side and grayish on the lower side. They are also velvety and have toothed edges. It can reach a maximum height of 60 cm. It is widespread especially in southern Italy, particularly in Sicily.
It has a gray and woolly stem. It is also known as Egyptian lavender as it is typical of rocky and arid meadows. In Italy, it is at risk of disappearing, and it can only be found in some areas of Calabria (in Reggio) and in Sicily (in Palermo and Messina).
Cultivation of Lavender in the Garden
Climate and Period
As mentioned earlier, lavender is a plant that grows in Mediterranean regions. Therefore, it is quite easy to cultivate it in our country. However, it is essential to keep in mind that the period for direct sowing may vary. In the regions of Southern Italy, the optimal season is autumn, but sowing can also be done in early spring. For regions in Northern Italy, it is better to prefer the spring season.
Propagation of Lavender by Cuttings
Regarding the propagation of lavender plants, it can be done either by cuttings or by seeds.
In the first case, the process is similar to what we have already discussed when talking about rosemary cuttings. However, it is necessary to ensure that the cuttings are at least 10 cm long. The stems should be rooted in a mixture of peat and fertile soil. Once the cuttings develop the first roots and new shoots, the young lavender plant should be transplanted into its final pot.
The propagation by seeds is a bit more delicate. To facilitate germination, it is recommended to soak the lavender seeds for 6-8 days. Only then they can be sown in soft soil.
The germination times vary from one lavender species to another. In general, the sprouts will begin to appear from one to four weeks after sowing. A small tip: for higher germinability, it is better to choose fresh seeds, carefully checking the packaging date on the packet.
It is preferable to plant the seeds in pots rather than directly in the ground. Always try to keep the soil moist on the surface and place the pot in a bright but not excessively sunny location.
Once the seedlings have grown enough, simply dig a hole in the garden soil a few centimeters deeper than the plant’s roots. Then place the young plant and cover it with soil.
Soil and Garden Positioning
The ideal soil for lavender cultivation is clayey and calcareous, but the plant can also adapt to alkaline soils.
For the successful cultivation of lavender, it is necessary to choose a suitable location. A sunny and ventilated spot in the garden is preferred. Additionally, it should not be too humid and should be away from other plants that could hinder its development. Lavender does not require excessive humidity, which, on the contrary, could be harmful, and excessive proximity to other plants may prevent proper air circulation.
Cultural Care, Frost Protection, and Mulching
To protect lavender from harsh weather during the winter, it is essential to follow the appropriate precautions. A simple protective technique involves covering the surrounding soil with natural mulch. In addition to this protective function, mulching helps limit the presence of weeds.
If you want to grow lavender, it is important to keep the soil well-drained, as waterlogging can damage the plant. Therefore, watering should be regular but not excessive.
To support its growth, the soil should be fertilized, using home compost or worm humus. This operation should be carried out during the growing season, between March and May.
Growing Lavender in Pots
Lavender can also be easily grown in pots. Again, it is crucial to choose a sunny location. If the climate in winter is too harsh, the pot should be moved to an enclosed area, but still near a source of light, such as a window.
For cultivation in pots, Lavandula angustifolia of the variety Nana Alba is considered the most suitable species. While,
for cultivation in pots, you can choose between propagating by cuttings or by seeds. In both cases, there are a few but essential precautions to observe. First, it is necessary to choose a rather tall pot. On the bottom, place a layer of expanded clay balls (which can be found easily here), gravel, or shards before filling it with soil. The soil should be soft or medium-textured, rich in compost, and, most importantly, well-drained.
Lavender should be watered when the surface of the soil appears dry. Water should always be directed towards the base of the plant.
Keep in mind that lavender is a fast-growing plant. Even in a pot, it can grow up to a meter in height. It can be repotted annually, and generally, repotting should be done in spring, choosing containers with a larger diameter each time. During repotting, the soil should be changed, and it should always be fresh and well-drained.
Biological Defense against Cryptogamic Diseases
The lavender plant is quite robust and is not susceptible to particular attacks by parasitic insects.
However, even though it is a hardy plant, it is not immune to diseases such as viruses and cryptogamic diseases.
Among these, we can mention:
- The Alfalfa Mosaic Virus (Amv), which frequently affects this plant. This virus is not easily eradicated. It is a virosis that affects the plant’s development and causes yellow spots on the leaves, which later evolve into necrosis.
- Fungi that can attack lavender include Septoria, Rosellinia, Armillaria, and Phytophthora. While not easily visible to the naked eye, their presence can be detected through careful observation of the leaves, which tend to develop stains and turn yellow.
To protect lavender from these pathogens, it is advisable to use horsetail macerate preventively. Additionally, certain agronomic measures are essential, such as removing residues of diseased plants and, if necessary, disinfecting the soil with quicklime.
Pruning the lavender plant is a delicate operation that should only be done after a few years from the initial planting. Annual prunings can be started from the second or third year onwards.
Pruning serves to shape the plant, deciding whether to have wide bushes or tall hedges. However, it is essential to remember that, to keep the lavender plant always vigorous, pruning with shears should only be done at certain times of the year.
Pruning should be done at the end of the normal vegetative cycle, after flowering, usually in autumn.
However, one should not overdo the cuts, as the plant may have difficulty reproducing its vegetation.
Using Lavender Flowers
The flowers of lavender are used in different ways, both in the cosmetic, culinary, and medicinal fields. Here are some examples:
The dried flowers can be placed in small bags made of natural fabric (such as cotton or linen) and used to perfume linen or confined spaces, such as wardrobes.
Lavender Essential Oil
Lavender essential oil is known for its relaxing properties. It can be used as a massage oil or in aromatherapy to promote relaxation and better sleep.
Lavender in Cooking
In the culinary field, lavender flowers can be used to flavor dishes such as sweets, creams, honey, and even savory dishes like roasted meats or vegetables.
Lavender flowers have recognized soothing and antiseptic properties. Their infusions can be used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and digestive problems. Lavender oil can be applied topically to treat minor burns, wounds, and insect bites.
Harvesting and Drying Lavender Flowers
Harvesting lavender flowers is a delicate operation. The flowers should be collected when they are still in full bloom and have not yet started to wilt.
It is essential to cut the stems with pruning shears or scissors, trying not to damage them excessively. The best time of day to perform this operation is the morning, when the sun has dried the dew from the flowers, but it is not yet too hot.
Once harvested, the lavender flowers can be hung upside down in small bunches, in a dry and dark place. After a few weeks, they will be completely dry and can be removed from the stems and stored in airtight containers.
In conclusion, lavender is an extraordinary plant, rich in history, and with numerous uses. Cultivating it in your garden or in pots can be a gratifying and enjoyable experience. Whether for its enchanting fragrance, culinary potential, or medicinal properties, lavender is a precious ally in various aspects of daily life. An excellent lavender essential oil can be found at this link